In an ideal world, your children leave the house in the morning with their backpacks on and walk down the street to school or to the corner of your street and get picked-up by the school bus. That is how it works (almost) everywhere in United States. Everywhere, that is, except in San Francisco, CA.
A number of years back, San Francisco tried to diversify schools by creating an assignment system in order to give disadvantaged children better options. What it did was make a mess out of the system, and now they are trying to take steps to clean it up. In the midst of this mess, middle-income families, like myself, began to flee the city for neighboring counties where you go to the school where you live – as you should!
But we just don’t want to leave – if we don’t have to. So this year I am playing the school lottery game! The most talked about game in the city – if you have a school aged son or daughter.
Big Girl’s birthday falls in late August. In the past, the age cut off was that the child needed to by 5 years old by December 31 of the school year to attend kindergarten. California law has changed the cut off to September 1, which is more closely aligned with private school date (which we don’t make, so private school is not an option this year).
With that said, the cut off date moves back 1 month each year for the next 3 years. So this year, the cut off is November 1. Big Girl makes it! But when Little Girl is old enough to attend kindergarten, she will have to wait an extra year. So my children who I carefully spaced two years apart may be three years apart in school.
The question on whether or not to even send Big Girl to school next year with a late August birthday can fill another blog post – “red shirting” is a hot topic here too. But back to the subject…
In theory, I have a choice – I get to list 7 schools in ranked order that I would like my child to attend. But if the school(s) you select have more requests than seats, a “tie-breaker” policy is used. The policy is:
1. Younger sibling
2. Attend a public pre-Kindergarten program (which is really hard to get into)
3. Live in a low test score area
4. Live in school attendance area
Where you live is a new criteria added this year. We have yet to see the outcome of students going to schools where they live. The major problem is that schools in good neighborhoods often have more requests than seats which leave little or no space for those who live there. Or parents like us, deem our “neighborhood school” not good enough.
So what are we going to do? I brazenly handed in my application with one choice. The staff member asked me if I was sure. I confidently said “yes!”. From there I appreciated her positive thinking as she gave me instructions on how to register – that once I received my placement letter I would go to the school I chose and register.
So keep your fingers crossed! Letters are being mailed March 16 and no one can wait!!!! Oh, and if you don’t get the school you want, you can try your luck two more times.
How does the pubic school assignment system work in your area? Or are the public schools good enough to send your child?
This has been an original post to World Moms Blog by Angela Y of San Francisco, California.
Photo credit to misskprimary http://www.flickr.com/photos/misskprimary/1038145678/in/photostream/. This photo has a creative commons attribute license.
Interesting to read about the system of public school in the States.
My son is a December baby the cut off system here is different than what you have. He is a little behind but I decided that it’s alright for now to start school a bit late.
Public School here is not very good – sadly – because the teachers are so underpaid I’ve heard stories from other parents that have to deal with the side effects of this. Teachers will practically start pimping it out from selling what supposed to be free stuffs to asking for bribes just to accept students. It’s really sad. Growing up, I’ve always went to private schools so I don’t have personal hands on experience. I worry my son would be bullied if he goes to public school here because he’s a mix kid.
Thanks for this post! Looking forward to read the other comments later 🙂
The public school system in San Francisco is actually looked down upon by most. Some families move to the county where it is good from Kindergarten through High School or pay for private schools. But since we started contemplating what to do, we have found some gems in the rough that we would send our children to.
FYI — Tater Scoops is talking about the public school system in Indonesia.
Good grief, that made my head hurt just reading what you have to go through! In New Zealand most children start school on the day they turn five or the closest day to that the school is open. Many do go to the nearest school but some have to go through a ballot system in popular areas, and sometimes siblings aren’t guaranteed a spot.
While most Kiwi parents seem happy or resigned to the state education system, we both agreed to send our boys to an alternative school where the arts, handwork (from sewing to metal work) and physical skills are treated with equal importance to academic achievement; and the children are treated as whole people rather than cogs in a wheel.
I do like your approach of only putting one school on your option paper!
@ Karyn – could you clarify…”most children start school on the day they turn five” ?? Is admissions rolling? Do children start mid-year?
We, too, believe in alternative schools. The 1 school we listed is a Montessori school and then we applied to a arts based charter school. The charter school is public but has its own lottery system.
Yep. Children can start any day that the school is open, and they do. This means the New Entrant teachers get to teach the word, “I’ fifty times or more a year! One the class gets too full, the more academically advanced ones move on to a new teacher. After the first year it’s a lot less messy and children are grouped according to age.
One of the miiion reasons our boys are in a Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) school!
That is soooo interesting about starting the day you turn 5 in New Zealand!
That sounds so complicated. Good luck!
Japan has a very strict neighborhood school system, and unless there are very extenuating circumstances, children must go to the designated school or opt for private schooling.
My son has a birthday near the cut-off date, too. I wish I’d had the option to red-shirt him. But here you must start school at six, no exceptions, He really wasn’t mature enough to start elementary when he did. Having a slight language delay in Japanese didn’t help matters, nor did being ambidextrous in a right-hand-is-the-correct-hand society. We’re almost done with the first year, though. Hoping next year goes more smoothly!
Thanks for sharing this! As I mentioned, red-shirting here is a hot topic. You son sounds a lot like Big Girl. We have been advised to send her for speech therapy to help with her articulation. And she is ambidextrous (maybe with a tendency to use her left hand).
Do you have the option for your son to repeat one of these first years? Some private schools in the States (like Waldorf) have two years of kindergarten. I also know of families who could not afford private school or preschool (which here has the same cost of private school), so they asked that there son repeat kindergarten to give him an extra year to mature. Do you have any similar options?
Where I live in NJ, there happens to be one public elementary school in my town that all the kids can go to. We start at age 5, and there is a cut off date in the fall (I don’t know exactly the date — Oct. 1st?)
It’s interesting how the school entrance systems vary from state to state and town to town in the US. It all depends where you happen to live!
Thanks for sharing this article, Angela!
Such an interesting system. My sister went through the ringer getting her son placed in a good public school in San Fran. I joked with her that it sounded worse than pledging a frat in college!
In the area of WA I live, the public schools are all rated high, and the kids go to their local school, so I am lucky in that respect. The exception is if in 2nd grade your child tests into the advanced studies program. Then they may have to commute to a different school that houses the program. But siblings can also apply to attend that school in that event.
But when we moved residences a little over a year ago, we left the top of the line public school district and ended up in a still good but not “the top” district. I was stressing about it until I realized the small country school has it’s own advantages. No overcrowding, very transparent, high parent involvement, and an amazing Kindergarten teacher who responds to my calls and emails within 24 hours. Plus my son rides the bus that picks him up at the end of the driveway with all the other kids in the neighborhood.
I wish you all the best with getting the right fit for Big Girl!
Thanks for your comment.
Funny! I have also using the pledging analogy but in application to private schools in San Francisco. The application process is absolutely worse that what I endured pledging for my sorority in college. I am watching my friends go through it – there are essays, coffee chats, luncheons, “play dates” (interviews of children), one on one interviews of children, tours, mixers, etc. Oh, and then there is a non-refundable application fee. The commitment of time and money is a lot and you may not even get in anywhere depending on the number of siblings filling spots. Because siblings have priority, the placement of your first born is very important and yes, competitive! Please send me good thoughts on March 16!!!
Such a great read, Angela! As my neighbor until just 10 days ago, you know that I chickened out with the SF lottery process and fled the city for the burbs in order to guarantee a high quality, free education for our two kids (one of which will be starting Kindergarten in the fall, who was also redshirted!). While I know it is the right decision for our family, it really is a shame that the SF kindergarten assignment system felt so daunting and was a huge factor in leaving the city. We miss you guys already!
Just a quick update on my story…we received our assignment letters on Saturday. Opening the letters made my heart beat fast.
We were NOT assigned our first (and only) choice. We were NOT assigned our “neighborhood” school. We will NOT attend the school we were assigned. But hope is not lost. On the contrary, we also applied to a public charter school. Although we did not receive a spot through the initial lottery for the charter school, we are very high up on the wait list. The wait list is public knowledge (posted on their website) so parents can make informed decisions. If all goes well, we will receive a spot at the charter school.
The assignment system worked for almost everyone I know. Of the few families I know who went through the process, they were all assigned schools that they are thrilled to attend.
And all the children shall live happily ever after!